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Save Portland's Free Rail Zone from its demise

This petition had 16 supporters


Instituted in the 1970s, Portland's Free Rail Zone has been one of key features of our urban planning and public policies that made Portland uniquely sustainable and urban- and pedestrian-oriented. The Free Rail Zone brings benefits to all, not just those who live inside the zone. Downtown and Lloyd District retailers can compete well against suburban big-box chain stores thanks to free rail, without having the advantage of providing parking lots larger than their retail floor spaces. Likewise, the Free Rail Zone encourages tourists and shoppers to explore our central urban core and stop by at multiple businesses, essentially making the whole area one big shopping mall. More than simply a way to implement the Clean Air Act, the Free Rail Zone is at the core of what Portland's urban developers have always envisioned: a compact, high-density development friendly to pedestrians. The more people walk on our central city sidewalks to work, shop, and explore, the safer our city becomes and more vibrant our economy becomes. High pedestrian traffic in our urban core discourages crimes that thrive on anonymity and invisibility, which are often problems of car-oriented American downtowns.

The TriMet's plan to simultaneously increase fares to the All-Zone level ($2.50) and to eliminate the Free Rail Zone is a direct affront to Portland's values and urban development philosophy.

It also undermines the City of Portland's commitment to equity, despite TriMet top management's claim that eliminating the Free Rail Zone would somehow make the transit system "fairer" to those who live in the East Portland and outlying cities, an increasing percentage of whom are immigrants and people of color. I find this convenient exploiting of the immigrants and people of color to advocate for a policy that directly targets them highly repugnant. As the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 stated recently, the same TriMet management has launched a targeted fare enforcement campaign in the very same areas and put the TriMet road and rail supervisors under a unrealistic and unsafe quota to issue more citations and squeeze more money out of those who can least afford it. I simply do not find any shred of sincerity in TriMet's argument for eliminating the Free Rail Zone ostensibly for the sake of the disadvantaged minorities.

In contrary, it is important to note that the pattern of transit use is significantly different within the Portland's Central Planning Area, from how it is used mostly in the suburbs. In the suburbs, an average distance of a trip is much longer and TriMet is used to bring a person from point A to point B and back. In the central city of Portland, however, people generally make shorter rides with multiple destinations. Many who rely on downtown-based social services, downtown workers who shuttle themselves between their offices and other offices, workers and PSU students who ride the MAX for lunch break, all benefit from the Free Rail Zone. Lacking the Free Rail Zone, the City of Portland would be forced to provide more parking spaces, and those who rely on the free rail to meet their daily needs would either have to walk miles (the Downtown Portland is a big area) or risk $250 fines every day.

For these reasons, the City of Portland must preserve the Free Rail Zone by finding ways to financially sponsor it if TriMet is no longer capable of funding it. Additionally, I urge the City of Portland to preserve the Free Rail Zone for the Portland Streetcar, and also consider its extension into the entirety of the present Fare Zone 1, which would include Northwest Portland, South Waterfront, and Central Eastside (Produce Row District), encouraging the development of these areas and create an immense economic boost to the newly redeveloping neighborhoods.

Imposing and enforcing a $2.50 fare in the central urban core of Portland is both unworkable (especially when the intervals between stops are only two to four blocks) and betraying the spirit of equity by the very nature of being regressive.



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